Began that E Mail Unit with Year 3, but have decided to take a slightly different tack. I have opted to adopt the Think.com Environment as a place to work as an online community and a place to practice e safe procedures. My decision has been supported through Surveys carried out with Students using tools within the environment itself and data collected in recent interviews with students, which in part regarded their online activities outside of school, and their uses of mobile technologies.
Of 103 students surveyed, 80% across Key Stage 2, from year 3 to 6 have their own Mobile Phones, and more than 70%, have access to the internet most via Broadband from home. From conversations I have had, many of those using the internet regularly, also have MSN or Social Web Space accounts, and several of the Boys in upper KS2 are regular players as members of Multiplayer Gaming Commmunities. Surprising to me however, were the students in Upper Key Stage One, who said they had Mobile Phones, some of which they had received for Christmas, and one of whom mentioned using MSN (hopefully under supervision!). I also had a conversation last week with one of our parents, who felt able to discuss with me some of the issues they had already needed to address with their eldest child, and who expressed how pleased they were that we were seeking to engage with the issues surrounding online safety and behaviour, so actively with our younger cares.
Our School Contract and Code is known as the Three Bees. And within this contract children are encouraged to
Within this framework, classroom based contracts are negotiated at the beginning of every year as classroom communities are established Through PSHE or SEAL sessions, what these mean to us as members of the community, ideas about what they look like in practice are also developed and consolidated through practical activities as we seek to establish commonly understood guidelines and codes of behaviour. It is my desire that within this framework we ultimately develop and embed our e safty work.
Within ICT sessions earlier in the year I engaged older students in helping me to write an Internet 3 Bees Student Charter building on the familiar and established framework we already had for classroom communities. It is important that our students recognise and are able to transfer skills and approaches from their everyday experiences to their online or technologically mediated activities, and I feel that this requires experience, and engagement in supported online activities.
To support this process I have opted to use the Think.com environment within taught ICT sessions, focussing on email and other aspects of online communication, from Year 3 to Year 6. Within our Scheme of Work, I hope to tie use of this environment to our PSHE and SEAL curriculum, as a place to practically engage with our E saftey guidelines, but the environment offers so much more, as a cross curricular tool to encourage collaborative work and thinking together. As we move towards the introduction of VLEs, we need to be careful that we do not see these solely as homework repositories, but that we see them as vehicles to support and diversify our views of learning with ICT and not just delivery systems or storage spaces. Hopefully when we do adopt a VLE formally the skills students and teachers develop within think will be transferable to the more formal environment.
Think.com enables students to develop up to 10 pages, where up to 6 page elements, text, multimedia or dynamic can be added on each, using widgets to do this. It also provides each student with an individual student.yourschool @think.com email account. I have just been visiting some of my Year 3 and Year 4 student pages, who after 2 sessions in the suite, as with the older students, are finding little difficulty in using the tools available to them to engage with others, and to add interactivity to their pages. Indeed they are offering support and help to their friends, by sending stickies, inviting them to visit their pages and helping to include things they have done. Using the widget structure their is the potential to engage children in collecting and sharing ideas, collecting data, and uploading and publishing work which can be seen by and commented on by a real audience. To enable this environment to be used for practice, and for school based e safety purposes I have set access options to limit their access to the wider world community, creating a "walled garden" type environment, where they can work, and through monitoring, we can promote the e safety practices which the space is intended from our point of view to promote. This could be altered later, as student experience develops but for the time being we are concerned to use this space for school based online tasks.
Currently I am working on a new E Safety Policy for school, drawing on templates borrowed from the LgFL, (thanks Anthony for this link). Within this the priority for us must be to recognise and acknowledge the diversity of experience our students and colleagues bring with them, and the naivity as well as expertise we have within our communities. A cybecafe mentality is not an appropriate perspective on the use of the Internet. Many of our colleagues may be unaware of the online behaviours of their students, or the potential dangers they face. We need to find ways of making these considerations as transparent as road safety and stranger danger are when we take students on a school visit. E Safety considerations are not a matter for scaremongering, but about using common sense. We have not stopped taking children on school visits, because of the need to carry out risk assessment, but have become more vigilant and considerate of the potential hazards. A common sense approach to developing and supporting children's learning in and around the use of technology is what is required of us, and this in turn requires us to become familiar with these ourselves, and to ensure that our school philosophies and policies reflect the action required to bring this about.